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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Leaders should 'stop playing games' on roads funding

Update: Whitmer agrees to delay road funding talks to finish Michigan budget

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called upon Republican leaders in the legislature to “stop playing games” and offer a road-funding solution that will fund necessary infrastructure repairs Wednesday morning. 

Meanwhile, Republican leaders said they plan to move forward with finalizing the state budget without funding for long-term road and bridge fixes after the governor rejected four plans they presented. 

“I’m willing to continue to talk, but we have to pivot and also progress on a budget because the citizens of Michigan deserve the certainty of a budget being done,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Wednesday. “I can assure you there is no reason other than a desire to create a crisis for even the contemplation of a government shutdown.”

August 29: Michigan House Dem leader says Whitmer’s 45-cent gas tax is probably dead

If Whitmer, Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield don’t come to an agreement on how the state should spend its nearly $60 billion budget before Oct. 1, the government will shut down and any “non-essential” employees will face layoffs. Whitmer has said she’d agree to a temporary continuation budget if negotiations with the GOP leaders are ongoing in good faith.

Speaking to reporters, Whitmer said the proposals Shirkey and Chatfield offered as a solution to fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges were not “viable,” though she wouldn’t say what they offered and the GOP leaders did not give details when asked, due to what they said was a confidentiality agreement with the governor.

“It’s time for the Republican legislature to get serious, to get back to work and to stop screwing around and get it done,” she said. 

While experts agree $2.5 billion is what it will take to fix the state’s roads and bridges, and that’s still what Whitmer is pushing for, she said she’d be willing to negotiate if Republicans offered a revenue-generating solution that came “anywhere in the range.” Her proposal is a 45-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax, which would be constitutionally dedicated to roads and would give Michigan the highest gas tax in the nation. 

“It’s time for them to offer up something that is a legitimate alternative. Saying no is not leadership,” she said.

Shirkey said the plans he and Chatfield have presented to the governor all “included material new revenue.”

“They also included reprioritization of current spending and a refinancing of certain state debt obligations,” he said. 

He suggested the governor should consider the West Michigan Policy Forum solution of issuing a 30-year, $10 billion bond to fund the teacher pension system, freeing up as much as $900 million annually to replace lost sales tax revenue for schools and local government under a House proposal to eliminate the state’s 6 percent sales tax on gasoline. 

Whitmer said Wednesday that was not an option: “They’re fiscally bad ideas and taking money out of education to fill potholes is not a real solution.”

Teachers and children have been “starved and stolen of the resources they need to be successful,” Whitmer said. 

“A legitimate alternative has got to be bringing new revenue to the conversation about how we can meet our infrastructure needs. It cannot be at the expense of our education system, or of our kids, or of our pensioners.”

Earlier this week, Chatfield told WJR-AM that no plan presented to Whitmer would cut education funding. 

Chatfield called upon Whitmer Wednesday to “drop her insistence on a 45-cent gas tax” and continue budget negotiations separately from a roads funding solution. “We cannot hold the budget hostage because of her desire to tax every driver in the state.”

The car insurance deal the three made earlier this year was reached because “we were all at the table, in confidence, having good faith negotiations,” Chatfield said.

All leaders agreed they’ll continue to talk, but each side indicated it’s up to the other to step up to negotiations. 

“The fact that there is still a dialogue is probably a good thing,” Whitmer said.

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